Why use a Cinema camera underwater?

Nauticam underwater housing for the Canon C200 Cinema camera
The Nauticam underwater housing for the Canon C200

Why do I need to use a cinema camera underwater?

In a world of action cameras and point and shoots capable of 4K and all the rest, why would you opt to use a cinema camera underwater?

Given that “cinema cameras” can cost upwards of $7500, why bother?

Attaining the very best cinematic footage of underwater subjects has kept me motivated for my entire underwater filming career. Camera choice is one of the hardest things especially when I am paying for it myself. It takes a very special combination of factors for me to take the plunge….

I have been using cinema cameras on and off for particular projects for many years. I have not owned one, that is until Canon announced the C200, and then my ears pricked up. Firstly the camera is capable of outputting 4K 12 bit Raw Lite footage, it has a great canon processor and that canon colour, auto focus is leagues ahead, great glass is already available…….. When Nauticam announced they would be making a housing for it, I decided right there and then that this would be my next camera.

All in, the complete system with camera, lenses, housing, monitor, monitor housing, batteries, media etc cost about $30K. So it had better work and what I mean by that is it had better blow my bloody socks off.

The 12 bit Raw lite codec produced internally by the C200 comes as a CLOG2 file that can be processed in many non linear editors as either a log 2 or log 3 and a variety of other flavours. But how well does it work in the underwater environment?

Initial testing

It was very much in at the deep end. I had a filming gig in Bermuda for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. This was going to be the C200’s 2nd dive… (I had initially tested it for trim and overall ergonomics in Palau before heading out to BMD). First dives were very encouraging. The size of the camera and therefore the housing required made the setup quite bulky. A large system possesses inherent inertia and therefore makes the camera quite stable. A big plus in comparison to a GoPro.

Underwater cinema camera C200
The Nauticam system allows access to all camera functions and is a nicely balanced unit underwater.

I was pleasantly surprised with the dynamic range available as well as the colours that could be recovered from the 12 bit LOG media. My main gripe was that the file sizes are huge and only the very fastest of computers will be able to handle the editing and colour correction process. But again color correction is quite possible as opposed to a lower bit rate point and shoot.

Some initial shots from Bermuda are here: https://www.facebook.com/lspfilm/videos/2519660171458599/

You can see that there is virtually no noise on the blacks and the rolloff in the whites and highlights is smooth.

Real world usage of an underwater cinema camera

Setting correct White Balance underwater is important. If it’s not done the image needs to be manipulated in post and too much of this can lead to visual artefacts and noise. Don’t start degrading the image straight away…get the right white balance in camera.

The camera allows you to monitor the waveform so that you can avoid crushing the blacks and clipping the highlights too much. This is hugely helpful in acquiring the right exposure. It also makes you think about the camera movement of the shot… If the shot will tilt up to the surface, will the highlights be getting clipped? How far can I tilt before that happens? Being able to see the waveform in the external monitor is huge..

One thing that is also hugely helpful is the internal ND filter system on the C200. If I am shooting into the sun for a silhouette shot I can quickly apply and ND+2 and avoid that clipping before I start rolling. This is something even more expensive cinema cameras like the RED do not have.

What other benefits does a cinema camera offer to an underwater cameraman?

Did I mention data rate? Yes the 12 bit Raw lite is a monster. It’s approximately 1 GB/second….If we switch to 60fps it drops to a 10 bit version but this is still huge.

Big data gives you more flexibility to adjust the image in post.

Another huge plus for cinema cameras is the output options via cabling. There are multiple bulkheads on the housing that can be plumbed with either SDI or HDMI cables. If need be these can be routed to a directors monitor so that they can give directions to the camera operator and talent via coms as they watch what the camera is filming live.

Colour Correction

colour checker underwater
Using a colour checker underwater can help you get close to a target colour grade

You can see in the above example, I have used a colour checker prior to starting shooting in a particular area. It allows me later in post to have an idea about white balance, exposure and my colour spectrum. There are plenty of videos on YouTube describing this process, check this one out for some good colour theory and instructions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJjY3Djj0Wg

This above example is not an ideal situation as the colour checker is only 10 cm in front of the camera and not the 3m away where the subject is, however it is a good start. Utilise your waveform guide to ensure you’re not clipping either the blacks or the whites.

So once you have your white balance and exposure/contrast in the right ball park you can start to refine your colour edit. Adding a LUT or using the HSL secondary colour corrector in Premiere Pro to fine tune the image to your liking or the Directors particular colour preferences .

Colour correction for underwater footage
The HSL secondary colour correction (right hand side) can be used to isolate and enhance certain wavelengths.
Underwater Footage Before and After colour correction
Underwater Footage Before and After colour correction. CLOG 2 12 Bit Raw Lite.

The above example shows what can be accomplished. I’m no expert either but because I can adjust many aspects of the camera and I have a reference slate I can correct the footage so it really pops.

So why use a cinematic camera underwater?

A cinema camera underwater provides the perfect combination of quality and adjustability that I’m looking for. It’s extremely adaptable: I can change lenses and ports, I can output a signal to an external monitor for viewing by a 3rd party live. It shoots in a codec that allows a colourist to manipulate the image far further than if it was a simple low bit rate codec. It’s size and mass provide stability.

Overall it’s the best tool for the job, that’s the fundamental reason, the best tools that your budget can afford. Getting the best out of those tools though…..That’s up to you.

View this long static shot using the C200 Underwater:https://youtu.be/3mgYZGk1IOU

2018-2019 Show Reel

It’s hard to know what to include in a 3 1/2 minute representation of an entire years work of Media Production across the Pacific. The obvious answer is “the best bits” or make it longer than 3 1/2 minutes!. But it’s not that simple. Because without wishing to appear like a braggart, it has been a very busy 2018.

There has been 3 filming expeditions. One to the South West Islands of Palau and two to Kiribati. There has been projects on the Protected Areas Network of Palau and Dugong conservation. Various spawning aggregation documenting and VR 360 projects. Aerial Surveillance missions. National Geographic assignments, even Taro cultivation and responsible cat ownership…The list is certainly diverse!

Our latest show reel

Compared to last years show reel, we have expanded our range out across the Pacific. Filming in some extremely remote locations but also doing a lot of work still in Palau.

I haven’t been able to include a bit of everything into this years show reel but hope that what is included is representative and entertaining at the same time.

Over the year we have expanded our range for media production across the Pacific, providing underwater and drone filming services to clients including Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute of which you can read about here.

It’s who you know for media production in the Pacific region

At the same time we have increased our range of contacts across the Pacific region. We visited a variety of Environmental and Fisheries themed workshops thereby networking with a huge number of contacts. This networking is hugely valuable in future media production projects across the Pacific. From the Solomon Islands to Hawaii, Vanuatu to Pohnpei, Yap to Fiji. We can help put you in touch with media production professionals across the region. Contact us if you would like to know more.

If we can’t help you directly, we can certainly help you find someone that will. We look forward to hearing from you.

Return to Kanton Atoll, filming expedition.

The odds of being asked to go on a filming expedition twice in six months are low. The odds of being asked to go to a location as isolated as Kanton Atoll in Kiribati must be even lower. But that is exactly what I was asked to do in November.

As filming projects go, this expedition was an extremely short notice affair. Less than a month from first client email to jumping on the plane. Thankfully it was only 5 months since my last filming expedition so everything went right back into the packing cases much as it had before. The big difference this time was that instead of sailing to our destination we were flying in a light aircraft and weight was a major issue.

The dilemma that existed was to be prepared for camera failures etc but still pack light enough. Underwater filming is extremely equipment intensive…..

Pack lighter

Our flight to Kanton was to be in a Beachcraft King Air, Twin Engine. Much like the one we used here in Palau to spot illegal fishing vessels.

Beechcraft King Air
We boarded our charter plane to Kanton from Christmas island

My client this time was Economist films. We had worked together previously on a project in Palau and so it was good to catch up with their Producer Samuel Hunt again. Samuel and I were joined by Freelancer Sam Farmar who bought with him buckets of experience in documentary filmmaking.

We were on our way out to document Dr Greg Stone as he continues to study the near pristine reefs of the Phoenix Islands. Greg has in the last couple of months predicted the likely occurrence of a new El Nino warming event. The Phoenix islands lie right in the path of it. It was a race against time to get there and install temperature measuring equipment.

Touchdown on Kanton

We landed and were greeted by the residents of Kanton, who I had only said goodbye to in June. It was great to see them again especially the surprise on their faces as they weren’t expecting me at all.

After our reunion we were shown to our accommodations, simple beach huts, and set about preparing for filming. It was then that we had our second, not particularly pleasant news delivered…

The first had been that almost half of our bags had not arrived in Christmas island from Honolulu via Air Fiji….thanks guys…We were down camera equipment, clothes…. all sorts of things.

The second bit of news was that the tank compressor that had been flown in from Tarawa only a few days previously would only pump our dive tanks to 50 bar….Hardly the best news for a dive expedition filming project.

tank compressor kanton
The 24 year old compressor had seen better days and would only pump the tanks to 50 bar.

Pump up the jam

The compressor started easily enough but the main belt started slipping as soon as any load was put on it. We set about trying to get the thing working. In the end taking a hacksaw to the chassis and pulling the small Honda engine away from the compressor to put some tension in the connecting belt.

We had to also fashion a snorkel out of pvc piping to get the intake away from the exhaust…..

Any certified diver will tell you, it’s normal for a full tank to be at 200 bar and that you should be exiting the water at 50 bar…Instead, we were STARTING our dive with 50 bar…. Still…50 bar is 50 bar…

Needless to say our plans to install temperature loggers at 100 feet were shelved. A shallower goal was more prudent. It wasn’t even as if we had a huge number of tanks all at 50 bar, we literally had 5 tanks between 3 of us and a compressor that took 45 minutes to do a pitiful job with one of them. wtf

Stiff Upper Lip and all that

So whilst it wasn’t quite going to plan, all was not lost. We still had some air, we still had some cameras. So we really had almost everything vital we needed to be able to pull this off, and we set about doing just that. We dived and filmed the placement of 11 temperature loggers both inside and outside the lagoon. Interviews were conducted with the Kanton residents. Aerial scenics were filmed by me with the drone (a nice new Mavic 2 Pro). Greg was able to deliver to camera his knowledge of why this expedition was so vital to help understand the impacts of warming events on coral reefs.

One very cool thing about chartering a plane is that we were able to extend our stay on Kanton by an extra day.

Pristine Reefs

Underwater Kanton reef
The reefs were so beautiful.
Underwater Kanton reef
The coral reef communities that may or may not suffer from the incoming El Nino event.
The “Coral Castles” of the inner lagoon are huge but incredibly delicate.
The entrance to Kanton Lagoon is the final resting place of the SS President Taylor wreck. This presumably is one of its anchors, another lies on the opposite side of the channel.
Dr Greg Stone after securing one of the 11 temperature loggers, Kanton.
Underwater Kanton reef
Our tender driven by Kanton resident and long time PIPA advocate “Tuake” was welcome site upon surfacing.

The reefs within the atoll and close to the entrance are predominantly made up of table coral forms. One of the benefits of having so little air was that I had to stay shallow, which of course ensured better colours in the footage.

The glass is half full right!

Homeward bound

After 4 days filming on Kanton, we had to be heading back to Christmas island and the only flight out of there that week. It was a shame to be leaving. There is still so much to film around Kanton, we barely scratched the surface again.

I only hope that the same fate that took me there twice this year, will enable me to document the beauty of this incredible place in more depth another time.

Many thanks to Greg Stone, Sam Hunt, Sam Farmar, Christine Greene.  Peter Rive, Val Serna, Pilots George and Dave and all the residents of Kanton that welcomed us so warmly.

The film from this expedition is due to be Premiered in March. Watch this space for details.

For more insights on working as an underwater cameraman see here.

Cheers

Richard

Filming in Palau. Professional Media Production, things you need to know.

Filming in Palau

Are you thinking of filming in Palau?  Are you looking for a reliable and professional media production company to assist with your project?

Lightning Strike Productions is run by husband and wife team: Richard Brooks and Bernadette Carreon-Brooks. Together they have over 30 years cumulative experience living in the Republic of Palau. Richard has been filming underwater for over 20 years and in Palau for over 12. Bernadette is an internationally renowned journalist specialising in fisheries, economics and politics.  

We can help you with all aspects of your production. Filming permits, accommodation, land transport. Underwater camera operator, boat hire, rental camera equipment. Interviews, drone pilots, on camera talent…..

Over the last 12 years we have filmed in a huge number of locations within Palau. From the far northern reefs of Velasco, to the far south and it’s remote islands of Helen,  Tobi and  Sonsorol.

Filming in Palau. Underwater wildlife of Palau
Underwater icons found on almost every dive in Palau
How Lightning Strike Productions can help you

Lightning Strike Productions has worked with numerous broadcast entities in Palau over the years. Clients include the BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Aljazeera,  ABC, Animal Planet, National Geographic and Discovery Channel. It’s also a regular contributor to online news media through it’s stringer services.

Our cameras, both underwater and drone mounted output Raw footage, ensuring the very highest in 4K 16 bit quality.

aerial photography palau
Postcard perfect Palau

 

 

 

 

Whilst things have improved, Palau is still remote and does not have a huge amount of media production resources. There are no dedicated camera stores and spare parts etc need to be ordered in from overseas, which can take at least a week at best.

It’s regional and national government structures can be tricky to negotiate for filming permits and site access. We can help you navigate and succeed in this local arena.

If you are considering filming in Palau it’s well worth contacting us to find the lay of the land and get a bespoke solution for your success.

360 VR by Drone
360 degree view of Koror, Palau’s commercial hub and the adjacent Ngermid Bay with it’s picturesque limestone islands.
 
Location Palau

The Republic of Palau has a huge variety of healthy and almost pristine ecosystems. Palau provides a huge wealth of opportunities for media content. It is visually stunning with tropical islands, coral reefs, jungles and plentiful iconic species.

There are numerous conservation stories available.  Marine Protected Areas, Tuna Fisheries, Marine  enforcement,  mangrove protection, migratory shorebirds, climate change resilience.

We have WW2 wrecks, their de-mining and recovery of human remains. Extensive underwater caverns and of course the many marine lakes with their millions of Jellyfish.

palau underwater filming
A huge range of underwater environments……

Additionally the other side of the coin is also available. Stories on illegal fishing and the black market trade in protected species. The need to balance tourism and development with conservation. Tuna economics, Climate Change, Ocean acidification, renewable energy, coral bleaching, plastic pollution….

There are stories waiting to be told and new technologies waiting to tell them with and since we are based in Palau we can start production quickly.

filming in palau aerial filming
Drone filming services expand shot range with a reasonable budget
Palau Stock Footage library

If you need footage quickly or something specific but time consuming, there is always the option of stock footage. As a result of filming here for over 12 years we have a huge stock footage library available.

Almost all our work has something to do with the environment meaning it’s well worth seeing what we can offer on those subjects.

See our latest show reel here

Filming in Palau with Lightning Strike Productions

Lightning Strike Productions has the experience and the expertise and is therefore perfectly placed to help you with any element of your filming and media production needs in Palau. Feel free to contact us for more information.

Cheers

Richard

Welcome to Behind the Scenes

Filming and media production in Palau

Welcome to Behind the Scenes. This is Media Production Palau.

Here we have a collection of posts that look behind the cameras of Lightning Strike Productions.

At Lightning Strike we film underwater, in the air with drones and from aircraft. We film wildlife, interviews and Time-lapse sequences. We edit and produce educational films. In short we tackle everything media production related in Palau.

Most of our films and media are environment based and we take pride in all our media production projects. We are media production Palau.

As this blog grows we will be covering a range of subjects but they will mostly be grouped into the following subjects:

Underwater Cameraman Palau. Media production
Underwater filmmaking needs you!

Underwater filming and photography

Drone filming and photography

Time-lapse shooting

Conservation

Expeditions and Travel

360 VR

Enjoy these sporadic writings. There is no schedule… Please feel free to leave a comment or ask  questions regarding any elements of our productions. Keep coming back for updates .

See our company website for more information.

Media Production Palau

We are available for: Underwater filming, underwater photography, underwater camera rental.  Aerial filming, drone pilot hire. Location scouting, fixer work. We can help organise permits, accommodation in Palau, dive boat charters, aircraft charters, stock footage or just advice on where to dive.

The latest media production in Palau and beyond

For a comprehensive run down of everything we got up to in 2017 check out this post. It highlights all the progress we’ve made as well as the major projects we have undertaking over the year. New camera and filming techniques with many examples of the films we shot for our clients, it also includes a show reel of our favorite footage from the year, so have a look!

Cheers

Richard

Richard Brooks:- Underwater cameraman

Underwater Cameraman Richard Brooks
How do I become an underwater cameraman?

Richard Brooks- Underwater cameraman: “I get a lot of e-mails asking me how to become a professional underwater cameraman, or how to use a professional underwater camera or even how I’ve got to where I am with my underwater cameraman career. So I thought I’d put together a short blog to help all those aspiring shooters.”

Unfortunately there is no one course or definite route. The more successful underwater camera operators you meet the more varied the stories  you’ll get. For the sake of this, here are some recurring similarities.

Most of it may seem like common sense but hopefully my contribution offers you some insight.

If any readers have ideas that they can offer, things that I haven’t encountered or mentioned it would be great to hear from you. Please leave a comment at the bottom to help every aspiring shooter out there.

how to become a successful underwater cameraman. Underwater Cameraman Palau
Waiting for the sun to set before filming a Grouper spawning aggregation, Little Cayman, circa 2005
Continue reading “Richard Brooks:- Underwater cameraman”
Underwater Cameraman Richard Brooks
How do I become an underwater cameraman?

Richard Brooks- Underwater cameraman: “I get a lot of e-mails asking me how to become a professional underwater cameraman, or how to use a professional underwater camera or even how I’ve got to where I am with my underwater cameraman career. So I thought I’d put together a short blog to help all those aspiring shooters.”

Unfortunately there is no one course or definite route. The more successful underwater camera operators you meet the more varied the stories  you’ll get. For the sake of this, here are some recurring similarities.

Most of it may seem like common sense but hopefully my contribution offers you some insight.

If any readers have ideas that they can offer, things that I haven’t encountered or mentioned it would be great to hear from you. Please leave a comment at the bottom to help every aspiring shooter out there.

how to become a successful underwater cameraman. Underwater Cameraman Palau
Waiting for the sun to set before filming a Grouper spawning aggregation, Little Cayman, circa 2005
Continue reading “Richard Brooks:- Underwater cameraman”